Why did ‘Milk Tokens’ become ‘Healthy Start’ food vouchers?

Remember Milk Tokens? Milk Tokens were the main feature of the Welfare Food Scheme for 66 years. Women would collect their milk tokens along with other benefits and exchange them for infant formula or cows’ milk. The problem was, you could get a lot more infant formula with a milk token then cows’ milk. Why was this a problem? The public health recommendation from the government is, and was, that breastfeeding is the safest and healthiest way for infants to be fed in the first year of life, and beyond. The Welfare Food Scheme was therefore at odds with this public health recommendation.

Alongside this concern, later 20th century research evidence increasingly supported nutrition in pregnancy and the early years as being of vital importance, and the damage to health and well-being caused by health inequalities was fully accepted in public health. Alongside this growing awareness of the importance of fruits and vegetables through campaigns such as 5-A-Day made it an opportune time to revisit the Welfare Food Scheme and move it into a more public health focussed arena (and give it a better name that had a more positive connotations!). Healthy Start was formed in 2006 after proposals and consultations took place (we’ll go into more detail on how these were performed and the policy process in a separate blog post).

Healthy Start is a different to the Welfare Food Scheme in a number of ways: beneficiaries get a food voucher that they choose how to spend on either fresh or frozen plain fruits and vegetables, milk or infant formula; they also receive vouchers for free Healthy Start vitamins and to access the scheme women have to go through a health professional. It is interesting when talking about Healthy Start with health professionals and beneficiaries, however, how many people still refer to Healthy Start as Milk Tokens. A recent evaluation (Lucas et al. 2013 – the full report can be found here) provided insight into how the shift from Welfare Food Scheme to Healthy Start has not been as smooth as originally hoped. The confusion is summed-up in the following quote from a Healthy Start beneficiary in Leeds: I only knew about the milk not the other things because they are milk token vouchers. (p.80)

Let’s try to emphasise the food in Healthy Start and leave the Welfare Food Scheme in the past. How do you promote Healthy Start food vouchers? Are there any examples from your local area of how Healthy Start has been differentiated from the Welfare Food Scheme?

Category: Blog